Tennessee’s game against No. 3 Georgia wasn’t a complete failure, but it wasn’t necessarily all that pretty either.
In the Vols’ 43-14 loss to the Bulldogs on Saturday, Jeremy Pruitt’s second-year squad held in as long as possible. Ultimately, Georgia’s talent overwhelmed the young Vols and made the score look worse than how the game actually played out, especially early on.
Despite a poor offensive performance in the second half and a lack of production from the defense, there were still a couple Vols who stood out and had productive games. These are the Vols that did just that and who would have received a game ball had Tennessee pulled off the monumental upset.
Brian Maurer, QB
In his first career start as Tennessee’s quarterback, the young freshman ignited the offense, the entire team, Neyland Stadium, and the entire fan base. Maurer struck early as he hit Marquez Callaway for a 73-yard touchdown. Then on the next possession, Maurer found Jauan Jennings for a 12-yard touchdown. The most impressive part of each score wasn’t the throw itself, but rather it was that those touchdowns came in response to a Georgia score. His second touchdown to Jennings gave Tennessee a 14-10 lead with 14:57 remaining in the second quarter.
Maurer ultimately finished 14-of-28 for 259 yards and two touchdowns along with an interception. He was decisive, confident, and made several impressive throws. Most importantly, he showed hope for the future and solved the quarterback controversy — at least for now.
“He stood in there and made some throws down the field in the first half,” Pruitt said of Maurer following the game. “He kind of went through his progressions, he kept his poise. Kept his eyes down the field. Made some nice throws, and it enabled us to create some explosive plays that softened them up a little bit so we could run the ball some.
“There is probably, I don’t know, eight to 15 plays in the game that he’s going to learn from and learn a lot of lessons from. That maybe we had an opportunity somewhere else, or maybe worked the wrong side of the field. That’s part of maturing, and it will be interesting to see moving forward how much he learns from this game and makes adjustments, because that’s important to do.”
Jauan Jennings, WR
Any and every Tennessee fan is willing to follow Jennings into battle. Saturday night was another prime example of that. The senior hauled in seven catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. Jennings’ fight was on full display as it took several Bulldogs to bring him down every single time he had the ball in his hands.
“All I know about Jauan, you know from practice and from playing, is the guy is a competitor,” Pruitt said of Jennings. “I mean, he is an ultimate competitor. Competes everyday. And the guy loves the University of Tennessee. And we need more guys like that.”
Marquez Callaway, WR
Callaway didn’t have the high number of catches that Jennings had, but he did surpass the 100-yard mark as he finished with 105 receiving yards and a touchdown. He only finished with three catches, but his execution on the route he ran on his 73-yard touchdown reception was beautiful. Callaway and Jennings will serve as huge safety nets for Maurer moving forward.
Jarrett Guarantano, QB
Guarantano doesn’t necessarily receive a game ball because of his play (he played just a few snaps total), but the redshirt junior at least deserves to be recognized for how he handled himself throughout a difficult situation. In today’s age of college football, it would have been easy for Guarantano to pack it in and not only give up on the season, but on his teammates, too.
Instead, Guarantano was the first to congratulate Maurer when he was off the field and the first to provide words of encouragement for the freshman before he took the field on each possession. When the defense was on the field, Guarantano was on the sideline acting as an extra coach. Then, when Guarantano’s name was called for a play after Maurer was shaken up, he promptly threw a dart to Dominick Wood-Anderson for 14 yards that resulted in a first down.
More importantly, when Maurer was destroyed on a sack that resulted in a fumble and a touchdown return for Georgia, Guarantano was one of the first players to run out onto the field to pick Maurer up and check on him. It would have been easy for Guarantano to fold and turn his back on his team, but he didn’t. He gutted it out in a difficult situation.
“I could hear Jarrett hollering out on the sideline,” Pruitt said. “‘Watch that, watch this, watch that,’ trying to help (Maurer). Jarrett is a team guy, okay?. Jarrett has busted his tail.
“I said today that he’s had lots of really good practices. I kind of put it like a basketball shooter. If you go cold, you kind of get in charge of yourself, sit down and watch it, come back out there. He comes in there, makes a great throw over the middle, you know? Jarrett is a guy that will help us win football games down the road, I guarantee you that, by his attitude and his work ethic.”